JOURNEY TO PANACOCHA
journal excerpts by Ruth Rosenhek 11/6/98-11/9/98
11AM we head to the river. Load our bags in the boat. Lots of plastic covering. Ramiro, the cook, and I work together as the rain pours down. As its been doing all night and all morning. buckets.
By the time I take my seat at the 2 seater bench at the bow, I'm soaked from the stream pouring down from the bridge overhead. Shit, my camera in Jane's rain windbreaker and my notebook with all the valuable notes of this journey. And the video camera in a green hefty sack in the knapsack. The possessions are split. Wallet in pocket.
Motor revs up and we're off, rain pelleting us. Within 5 minutes, thunk, a loud crash of the motor. It's fallen off into the river. We're drifting down the Napo River. Ramiro, a pained look on his face, tears in his eyes. He's the overall responsible person for the boat and kitchen and logistics.
No anchor. We keep drifting. A log has undone us already just moments after departure. Ramiro to the rescue! He's ripping off his socks and jeans, plunges into the water and down we float with Ramiro in tow. Several more minutes until we reach shore. This is a wide river, at least 300 meters wide, more like 500 I think or more.
The boys up front work on dragging the motor up. The eco-tourists are laughing their heads off, joy of the adventure. Me, I look straight ahead, hunched over in cold wetness, somewhat miserable. Oil fumes sting the nostrils. 5, 10, 15 minutes. No news. And then we hear the men laughing. And the starter clicks. click click. Roar. motor roaring now. rrrrrrrrrr.
And off we go. Ramiro back aboard, a grin on his face. This time he sits up front, signaling to the driver left and right to avoid such mishaps. 5 to 6 hours to go still and I wonder how Im going to hold out as the cold wake from the bow shoots over the plastic I hold around my wet body.
30 minutes later we stop at a ībeachī. Dark sand with little patches of grass. Lunch time. 2 rolls with mustard and cheese. Fanta soda and Coke. Ham for those who want it. And mayo.
I change my sopping wet t-shirt and tank top with the long sleeve one that's in my wind breaker pocket. Miracle that it's dry. Much better. Warmth returns. Misery lifts. I will live after all.
2 sandwiches later, I walk with Brigitte and Mari-Joe to the grass spots to take a piss. They giggle and use their ponchos to crouch under, unaccustomed to natural life. Marie-Joe gives a little hop to avoid the urine floating around her feet. Beach sand doesn't absorb the liquid that well when its already been drenched.
We pass the Maxxus road, the oil company's contribution to these previously unspoiled forests surrounding the river.
Randy and I talk about the impact of oil wells and whether it's helpful for a green person to work with oil companies as so many do here, to at least advise them of where not to drill, due to wildlife habitat.
The chemicals they mix with the oil leak, are toxic, gather in sinks, are found in mollusks. Neither of us know the ecological impact of the actual removal of the oil. Dinosaur bones transporting us down the river.
Down river is the Panacocha village. 15 families live there. The other 50 are scattered along the shore banks. thatched huts and an escuela we passed a bit back. Randy gives them books and maps, this time anatomy maps are included.
A lone sacred white heron. beautiful. We turn left up the Panayacu river. White river turns to brownish black water, warm and thick and soft. The air is fresh, fresh, less sweet than flowers,but softly scented. Birds chatter. Logs lie here and there to be navigated around. Dolphin energy enters into my heart in a burst of love and celebration. I feel civilization slip away behind me. The further in we go, the more comfort, back into the womb, slipping in, smoothly, gliding, lifting the motor often to avoid logs. Edison sees dolphins but no one else sees them. Im sitting up, leaning forward in case I see something. Randy sees wild turkeys. beautiful palms, delicate lacey leaves. Wide trunks fallen in river, night falls like a satin curtain over us as the bats arrive, swooping overhead.
We stop at the pay station and pay the community members a fee for entering. 7 turistas. good humor. a couple men, a few women and children. the money goes to Panacocha community although it's up to them how and for what.
Only 3 more houses along the way and a small farm or 2 with no residences.
As if planned for dramatic effect, we arrive at our sleeping destination just as navigation becomes impossible due to the shaded blanket of nightfall. Panacocha lodge is 5 minutes down to the right of where we're staying. Slide into the bank, into thick grab-at-your-boots mud. A balancing act out of the boat, we're not to step in the lagoon because electric eels might shock us, says Randy. Unload in human chain. Up to the roof covered platform, mosquito nets assembled, mats laid out, rice and veggie dinner, and now a peaceful orchestration of insects.
Cold cold night. hard floor. slept skewer fashion. 5 AMish, monkeys screaming through the jungle. I get up. walk down the path, past the outhouse about 50 yards. spellbinding symphony of birds and insects. I get lost in it and am physically lost several moments later, almost turned around in the jungle, but only just enough to give myself a little scare. I find the path and turning around, I experience what I call a....
Power moment. 3 huge sable trees with majestic root systems. I hear them say hello as they pull me magnetically towards them. And there I stand for 30 minutes or is it an hour. Taken over over taken Gaia enters enters Gaia. Arms rise up, breath enters leaves with leaves and trees. Magnificent magnificence magnifies my Being. tears fall. That this still exists so still so alive so strong so here here alive. Yikes!
Breakfast. fried egg, bread, chocolate and cafe, apple.
Get ourselves ready for a half an hour and then off we go out of the lagoon and back up the Panayacu river until the Panacocha lagoon. Pink-gray dolphins left, right, a pair with blind slits for eyes; they rely on sonar. Fish are jumping out of their way. . Our motors seem to please them as much as our silence. The tourists are happy to see the fins, head, a splash.
Then we head to the Lodge where we're greeted by the humorous grey winged trumpeter who walks down the walkway trumpeting grumpily letting us know that we're invading his land (or is this his greeting?). The Ecuadorian watchdog. Randy leans over to stroke his black head. I try the same, soft feathers, soft soft, silky, he stops trumpeting in ease with the affection as I nuzzle his neck.
Then up the ceiba tree, 40 meters. Up the trumpeter comes with us, at least halfway. Panorama of the lagoon, trees, birds, cabins. I go to shoot some video footage while the rest of the group delights in some monkey sightings high up in the forest's canopy.
Off for our jungle walk. Tropical swampy forest. beautiful old growth. Pedro, the Quichua caretaker, leads the way. Four of us follow, then Randy. Bird sounds of all sorts. The Screaming Peahawk whistles like a construction worker admiring a passerby. The Casica with an array of over 75 songs.
And then the swamp. All goes well at first following Pedro. Until Dominique behind me loses her leg to the swamp, like quick sand. Gasps. I turn, my feet balanced on a thin log and grab her hand. Holding her as she pulls and tugs on her leg until at last it reemerges. Randy helps Veronique in back who is shrieking with fear first and then with glee. Marie-Jo giggles as her legs repeatedly sink, pull, sink, fall.
Fire ants cover my hand when I use a tree trunk to steady myself. Oh, ca pique. small strong stings. "Ah, just fire ants," Randy explains as I pick them out from under my nails where they scurry to begin a new life.
Finally the mud ends and ocelot tracks greet us on the other side. We visit the special ant tree around which no other trees live. A good place to pitch your tent. Randy goes up to the tree, tears off a branch. "Look" he says "this is why they think itīs the ants that kill everything around the tree." and he breaks the branch open to reveal ants roaming throughout with little white egglets. Randy says, "yum yum good for the immune system and for seeing more sharply." And then he sticks his tongue in and laps them up. "Yum." Veronique looks stricken. But then, Ruth, the vego in the group, steps up to the plate and takes a couple of tongue swigs. Vero and Marie-Jo bravely follow suit.
My tired eyes feel better within moments. Perhaps psychosomatic, perhaps the ginseng-guarana effect of the ants.
We continue walking until there is a commotion behind me. Randy is grabbing Dominique. A coral snake has reared itself, ready to plunge. poisonous. The snake recedes after we all get a quick glimpse at the jungle creature.
The return is much swifter; by now all of us used to our wet boots and legs. Pedro helps Veronique this time, step by step. Tired out, we head up the tower for lunch. avo sandwiches, chips and lots of water.
Large birds squabbling in the trees, their wings flapping against the leaves. Itīs the prehistoric looking Hoazin Huppa, very beautiful tufted heads, brownish red. Gliding along in our dugout canoe, the sounds are overwhelmingly magnificent. Me and Dominique share the acoustic orgy with great delight. Blue crowned motmot, violacious jay, ruddy pigeon, gray frosted dove sounds like a mourning dove, birds that cry and birds that laugh. Awe from the beyond. Life, the Earth, the Cosmos. I just wanna celebrate!
What's that wind sound. Stronger and stronger in the distance. Ah, it's the Howler monkeys. We don't see them but they're here with us. And following their path are birds that enjoy eating the insects that drop from the branches as the monkeys move about.
A swim in the soft lagoon water. Silk along my thighs and breasts. Warmth on top. cold underneath. Randy and I dolphin dive. Excellent day.
Sunset over Panacocha lagoon from the treetop tower.
Peace. peace. peace, for the Earth, Ruth